Psychological Self-Help

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136
What to do about Destructive Guilt 
We have all done inconsiderate things or neglected to do
considerate things. So, some guilt is justified; we wouldn't want to
lose it. It's wonderful when we have the decency to feel appropriately
guilty! We need a lot more of that guilt, in my opinion. But, the
question here is: What can a person do about excessive,
destructive, or unneeded guilt? What about regrets?
As indicated above, begin by exploring the reasons for your guilt.
What have you done or failed to do? Should you feel guilty? What
moral principles have you violated? Are these moral principles valid
and reasonable (or worn out hand-me-downs)? Was it just an urge or
wish or did you act? Were the circumstances partly to blame? Ask
yourself if just because you did something bad, does that make you a
bad person? 
Are you making unreasonable demands on yourself? For instance,
do you expect yourself to never get mad and impatient with parents,
children, lovers, friends, and others? Do you expect yourself to like
your body and be sexually excited by your lover's body but, at the
same time, find nothing at all appealing about any other human body
in the world? Do you live according to your values and life-style or
according to current fashion or someone else's wishes? Are you a
perfectionist? If you have done something immoral but there is no way
to make up for it (be honest, don't cop out), do you keep on worrying
about it (more than needed to keep you from doing it again)? Think
about these issues. If useful, discuss them with others--parents,
friends, ministers, counselors. 
In this process, you are really checking the validity of your
attributions (your explanations of your behavior). This is an area in
which self-serving distortions abound, so review the ways we humans
are frequently irrational (methods #3, #4, & #8 in chapter 14) and
check out your own rationalizations for being inconsiderate of others in
chapter 7. Consider this: Depression often involves feeling helpless,
i.e. I'm-responsible-but-I-have-no-control over my life. Examples:
"I'm a disorganized, rattle-brained person and I can't keep a job" or
"Women see me as a nerd; the truth is I am dull and I can't change
that." In contrast, truly feeling guilt would seem to require "I'm-
responsible" and "I'm-in-control" attributions. Examples: "I had the
time and I should have studied but I didn't" or "Oh, God! Why didn't I
use a condom, it would have been okay." Guilt can be reduced if the
attributions are changed to "I'm not totally at fault" or "I can make up
for my mistake" or "I'm not in control" or "I'm responsible and I can
and will change in the future." See Kaufmann's suggestions below.
Frankly, while it is very commendable to feel self-responsible, to
reduce excessive guilt there are special times you may need to blame
someone else, your background, your circumstances, chance, or
anything but you (see method #4 in chapter 14). 
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